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Mobs, kids and angry young men

August 10, 2011

So yesterday I talked about the mobs in London. I had spoken to some of the victims of the violence. I identified with them straight away. Faceless mobs, of rampaging malevolent youths, haunted my family in Sri Lanka for decades. They never knew when the gangs would be waiting to haul them off a coach to hack them to pieces, or to burn down their shops.

Today I saw the other side. I sat in court and watched some of the rioters – not a mob now but a line of people filing through an overworked courtroom.

London is not Sri-Lanka, thank god. The kids on the streets here were gauche, opportunistic rioters but by and large they weren’t murderers. They were fools, though, for getting caught up in all this.One teenager was training to be a mechanic. His fierce, furious mother sat next to him as his lawyer explained that he had walked into a shop that already had its windows broken to see what was going on. CCTV footage showed he was inside for 9 minutes before he was arrested. The mother swore he was going to be grounded _ not realising he faced a prison sentence.

But back to Sri-Lanka. I never knew what drove Singhalese mobs to violence, but I did have some clues why Tamil kids joined the Tigers. They were denied university places by an absurd and unfair quota system. There were no jobs in the periphery of an uncaring centralised state. There was a vaguer, undefinable sense that there would be no justice for them unless they created their own.

I can’t claim for a second to understand what has just happened in London. And I am not arguing that social deprivation or unemployment justifies the chaos on our streets.There should be a morality that withstands poverty.

But I do know that any country that ignores its disaffected young men is making a huge, huge mistake.

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